Baseball's team owners cheered, the American Civil Liberties Union booed and the major league players union muttered a potentially meaningful "maybe" yesterday as a cascade of reaction followed Commissioner Peter Ueberroth's unilateral decision Tuesday to institute mandatory drug testing for all baseball personnel other than major league players.
Owner Marge Schott of the Cincinnati Reds made a typical management response, saying, "I think the commissioner is taking a strong stand on something he considers a serious problem. The youth in this country looks up to sports figures, and if we are all willing to do this, maybe the players will fall in line."
Manager Joe Altobelli of the Baltimore Orioles said: "If the commissioner of baseball wants me to take it, I'll be glad to do it. If he wants us to try something that he feels is in the best interest of baseball, I'm all for that.
"And I think if this leads to help some ballplayers, I'm all for that, too.
"If I was a player and not on (drugs), I'd raise my hand and say, 'Give it to me. Go ahead. I'm in the clubhouse two hours before the game anyway; what's the big deal?' "
The ACLU's director, Ira Glasser, however, criticized the new program -- which will encompass more than 3,000 baseball employes, including minor league players. "This is the sort of cynical stuff that people in power are doing to make a public relations point," he said. "It's like shooting a fly with a cannon. And when you do that, a lot of innocent people get hit by the shrapnel." In an interview with United Press International, Glasser also called the program "an example of unreasonable search and seizure" and "an invasion of privacy."
Even the National League's two-time most valuable player, Dale Murphy of the Atlanta Braves, called the plan similar to "assuming a guy is guilty without knowing. It's making somebody prove their innocence without knowing he's guilty."
Perhaps the most surprising reaction, and the most welcome to Ueberroth, was the way union boss Don Fehr left the door open for a reevaluation of the drug agreement negotiated between players and owners last year.
"I'm not foreclosing the possibility of changes," he said at a news conference in New York. "This, of course, is a very sensitive issue; it's an inflammatory one and it's an emotional one . . .
"This is an item of serious contention. We didn't delude ourselves that the issue would go away. The players association agreed a year ago that if it could be demonstrated that the (voluntary drug) program wasn't working, then we would have to reconsider. Show us and we'll do it."
Perhaps the most far-reaching implication of Fehr's remarks is that player compliance with tougher drug-testing policies might become part of baseball's labor negotiations, which have been stalled for weeks.
Players have been unwilling to tolerate rollbacks regarding their percentage of TV revenue or in arbitration procedures. If the players union gave ground on the drug issue, it might grease the way to labor peace and improve the sport's image.
That issue of image became increasingly important yesterday. Ueberroth said on NBC's "Today Show" that results of a Pittsburgh grand jury drug probe "are going to be bad . . . There will be things that will damage the game . . .
"We've got to stop drugs in baseball. We just flat have to do it . . .
"We're not going to have a Tulane in baseball," said the commissioner on ABC's "Good Morning America," referring to the alleged basketball point-shaving scandal involving drugs. "As long as a gambler can find an inroad to the game through some youngster who is hooked on drugs, then I'm not doing my job."
According to sources, the same FBI grand jury investigation that started in Pittsburgh, and that granted immunity to a dozen players from nine major league teams in exchange for testimony, has moved its focus to St. Louis and Atlanta.
"You know that players have been naming other players when they got behind those closed doors," said the Pirates' player representative, Bill Madlock.
According to spokesmen for the Cardinals and Braves, neither of those clubs knows anything about drug investigations involving its players.
Seldom has any decision by a baseball commissioner provoked such strong and diametrically opposed response.
"He'll never get it," said the Braves' captain, Bob Horner, of Ueberroth's request that players join in his testing program (no details of which have yet been released). "The guys who are on drugs in this league are obvious. If clubs paid close attention to how a guy is playing or acting, they'd spot 'em, too. You're talking about 50 guys, while 600 are clean. That's not justification for testing."
"If you don't have anything to be afraid of, why not submit to the test?" Schott wondered. "This is something that a lot of private companies have already done, and some of them have been shocked at the results."
"It's good for the society," said Joan Kroc, owner of the San Diego Padres. "Outside of nuclear war, (drugs are) the most deadly threat to our society."
What constitutes a threat to society can have different interpretations. Glasser of the ACLU said, "The question it raises is whether or not it is permissible to invade the privacy of thousands who are innocent of drug use in order to find a hand full of drug users. There is an old Southern song -- 'If you hang 'em all, you get the guilty.' "
He pointed out that Ueberroth's edict is legal because baseball is in the private sector, but added that it was "a classic abuse of power . . . The whole idea (of allowing) people to search whoever they want is the type of thing done in a totalitarian country."
One Orioles player who did not want to be identified said: "I'm not sure I understand why every ballplayer, because of a small percentage, has to give up a civil liberty. Somebody who may have used something recreationally could test positively. And while it might be good for that player to have to stop, the public perception would be that the guy is an abuser."
Fehr and the players union initially reacted with anger. "We had no advance knowledge and that's . . . not an appropriate way to do business; we needed to be consulted, not to be informed," said Fehr, whose first response was to call the plan grandstanding. "I don't think (this) will be (repeated)."
However, by yesterday evening, he was more conciliatory. He said that if, in the opinion of the clubs and the (three-member) Joint Review Committee of drug experts, the current program is not working, then the union would take the matter up again with its executive board and membership.
That, theoretically, could open the way to a new drug agreement that might, in turn, be tied in some way to resolution of the current labor stalemate.
He emphasized that the union wants major league players treated the same as anyone else in the country.
"No better and no worse," he said. "Except in the cases of individuals with control over others' lives, like airline pilots and truck drivers, no one else is subject to mandatory drug testing.
"We're being told, 'You're different. We want to make assumptions about you.' We will certainly comply with the agreement we have (already) made. It would take some convincing to change our minds."
Fehr refused to say how many players have been treated for drug abuse since the program was adopted last May. "Placing numbers on this is not a healthy exercise," he said. "It's none of your business."